Fishing for Insults

Those sushi guys sure know how to make waves. My November 18 Mouthing Off included some comments from Chris Selby, chef/manager of Restaurant Japon (1028 South Gaylord Street), whose eatery I had critiqued in my October 21 Second Helping. But a remark Selby made about Sushi Den (1487 South Pearl Street) set off the marketing director there. According to Yasu Kizaki, Selby's claim that the "core sushi staff" had left Sushi Den for Japon "simply is inaccurate." Adds Kizaki: "Mr. Selby was one of the many chefs who have been trained over the years by Sushi Den. Since the period of training to be a master chef requires decades of training and experience, it is implausible to think that any chef with a limited amount of experience would be considered the core of the Sushi Den establishment."

Well, yes and no. In fact, three longtime Sushi Den sushi chefs -- Selby, Wayne Conwell and Ban Nguyen -- are indeed at Japon, after having worked at Sushi Den for years (seven, in Selby's case). And when they left, they took a chunk of clientele with them: Sushi chefs often inspire a loyalty that makes the bond between, say, a golden retriever and his owner look like a one-night stand. Besides, Selby says, by "core," he really didn't mean "core." As he explains it: "There are way more than just three sushi chefs at Sushi Den, so I didn't really mean that the whole staff was gone. I was just trying to say that three sushi chefs who had a big client base were now somewhere else. My humblest apologies to Sushi Den."

Apparently, there are some raw nerves -- as well as raw fish -- at the two eateries, but that's okay; this town is big enough for the two of them. And they're both expanding in new and exciting ways. Three months ago, Sushi Den set up a direct importing link between Japan and the United States and is now supplying fresh fish through Los Angeles for fifteen restaurants across the country -- including Sushi Den, of course. "Master chefs are very fussy about the quality of the fish," says Kizaki, whose brother, Toshi Kizaki, owns Sushi Den and is considered to be the only master sushi chef in Denver. "We've been trying for years to import the fish directly from Japan and to eliminate the middleman so that the fish would get here faster. Obviously, we're very excited to be doing this."

Meanwhile, Japon is set to open a second location (not counting that first, aborted effort inside the Church nightclub), this time right on the Boulder mall, at 1136 Pearl Street, where it will take on the likes of the Cheesecake Factory. "It's called Japango, which doesn't mean anything but is kind of a cool-sounding name," says Selby. He'll be leaving Japon to run the new site, which is scheduled to open the day after Christmas. "We'll be doing some of the same fun stuff we do here at Japon -- the fusiony foods that merge all kinds of cuisines -- and it'll have that same more laid-back atmosphere." And it will also have the same great desserts: Selby promises that Japon's talented pastry chef, Cruz Blanco, will train his Boulder counterpart. "Yeah, we gotta have that tiramisu," Selby says."

Amen to that.

Pizza the action: The message board outside the HandleBar Grill (305 South Downing Street) tells people to eat pizza at Basil Doc's (2107 West Virginia Avenue). Since there's a pizza place -- Abo's -- in the small shopping plaza where the HandleBar is located, it seemed more than a little odd that the restaurant would instead promote a spot blocks away and on the other side of Wash Park. So I called HandleBar owner Mike Miller and asked: "What gives?"

Turns out Miller now owns Basil Doc's, which has been one of my favorite pizza spots since it opened a couple of years ago. "Well, to make a long story short," says Miller, "I've liked Basil Doc's pizza since they opened, when one of our customers, Paul Kashmann, who's the editor of the Washington Park Profile, told me to check it out one day when I was jonesing for a good pie. I never thought I'd own the joint, but here it is, two years later, and it's mine."

That's because Basil Doc's founders, Hillary and David Allen, who moved here from Connecticut, wanted to go back home. So Miller stepped in, and now he's not only adding hours to this Basil Doc's (it's open from 4:30 p.m. seven days a week), but in mid-January, he'll introduce a second location, at 330 Holly Street, the former home of Big Wheel (how ironic is it that a cycling enthusiast whose HandleBar is filled with photos of bike nuts in varying stages of mud spatter would take over an old bike store?). "I own the recipes and everything, so things are still the same there," he says. "But at the new spot, look for an expanded concept." Not too expanded, though: This is the same neighborhood that put up such a fuss that the spiffy, full-service Ambrosia, which hoped to open there, wound up over at 5410 East Colfax instead (although the equally spiffy Rue Cler did manage to take up residence at 5575 East Third Avenue). Neighbors willing, Miller plans to offer more than pizza. "It'll still be carryout, but I just couldn't see limiting myself," he explains. "The traffic at that spot is phenomenal, so hopefully I'll be able to attract some of that."

Meanwhile, back at the plaza, the owner of Abo's, Peter DeRobertis, has been understanding about the sign. "I talked to him about it, and we have a pretty good relationship," Miller says. "We both agree that it's silly to get all bent out of shape about things like this. So he does his thing, and I do mine."

Two miles to the southeast, there have been some changes in the University of Denver area. The eternally filthy and unappealing Keefan Middle Eastern (2017 South University Boulevard) has been replaced by the brand-spanking-clean Luxor, also Middle Eastern. Although I haven't eaten there yet, this is one instance where change would have to be for the better. And around the corner, the tiny space at 2337 East Evans that briefly had been a Sabor Latino Express is now Blue Nile, an Ethiopian joint.

Out in White Breadville, the Greenwood Tavern (5650 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard in Greenwood Village) has given up already, after serving unbelievably mediocre food to the Denver Tech Center masses for -- what -- three months or so? The site is ripe for the picking: Since the choices in this part of town are pretty dismal, a decent restaurant could make a killing here.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner